The Medieval Abbey at its Peak
After a brief spell of trouble during the reign of King John, during which time England was placed under an Interdict by the Pope, Buckfast entered a long period of relative stability. A small chapel - possibly a Lady Chapel - was added at the eastern end of the church, and quantities of 13th century floor tiles, tracery and Purbeck marble columns excavated in the late 19th century indicate further building work in the cloisters, chapter house and refectory. The 13th century was perhaps one of the peak periods in the Abbey's history.
This was the time when the influence of the Cistercians made itself felt in the area, and indeed in the country as a whole. As owners of large areas of land, the Cistercians became the country's main wool producers, setting up the industry which was to lead to England's great wealth in the later Middle Age. In 1236, the Abbot and his monks were admitted to the guild of Totnes merchants. In 1315, Buckfast was listed along with Forde, Newenham and Torre Abbey as an exporter of wool to Florence, although it is likely that, in line with most Abbeys in the country, Buckfast was sending wool to Italy by the end of the previous century.
Remaining Evidence of Farming Activities
Some evidence of the farming activities of the Buckfast monks still survives. A short distance up the road from the North Gate is the Abbey's grange barn, now converted for residential use, where the monks would have threshed and stored their corn.
On Dartmoor itself, another grange was excavated by Aileen Fox in 1956 on Dean Moor, before the area was flooded by the construction of the Avon Dam. This small homestead was used to keep a lay-brother in continual residence with a shepherd to help him, until the time of the Black Death (1348-50).
The Black Death
Excavations in the Outer Court between 1982 and 1990 may cast some light on the effects of the Black Death at Buckfast. Many of the buildings around the Abbey show signs that they either fell down or became disused in the mid 14th century, including the almshouse beside the South Gate, which appears to have burnt down, standing abandoned for many years before being re-roofed and used as a stable. The social necessity for an almshouse would have been reduced after the Black Death as housing was plentiful and, with labour in short supply, wages were high. The Abbey's disused buildings remained in this state for about thirty years, which was about as long as it took for the economy to recover.
Buckfast as a Wealthy Landowner
By the 15th century, Buckfast had become a wealthy landowner and a pillar of the establishment. Nevertheless, it had not lost sight of its social responsibilities, running its own guest hall, almshouse and school, as well as maintaining its parishes and manors, and establishing fairs and markets to encourage local trade.